Still from Robert Henke’s set at Optical 1

Our man in Seattle, Primus Luta aka David Dobson, continues his video coverage of the Decibel Festival for CDM with another set of feature coverage. All that coffee out there must be working. Take it away…

Despite being the first event after an incredible night, which for many extended well beyond the 2am last call, Pravda Studios is packed early on day three for a full schedule of conference activities.  It comes as little surprise though, the first workshop is one most who are involved with the release of music today are concerned with – “Creating a Digital Promotion Plan.”  Led by the PR savvy Shilo Urban of DanceFever5000 and head of promotions Decibel Erica Toelle, the workshop details the direct and indirect means of promoting music.  Covering issues including social networking, contacting blogs and labels, and building a promotions team, the hour long session is a crash course in self promotions.

There is little change over between the first and second session, indeed considering the subject matter perhaps the second session of the day should have preceeded the first.  The title “Uncertain Future: P2P Streams and Diffusing Works in the New Media World” paints a grim picture, but thankfully the panel is able to reveal some silver linings behind the clouds covering music today.  Moderated by Dave Segal of Seattle newspaper The Stranger, the panel features representatives from labels, radio and the press.  While it would seem most of the labels attest to following the BBE model (Barely Breaking Even) there does seem to be enthusiasm for this time in music.  Fans have become a commodity which both values music and is valuable to it, while labels have become cultural curators through which fans can filter through the deluge of releases to find the music that speaks to them.

As the next changeover happens things shift back to technology and creativity.  Where previous workshops on these lines dealt with music in a live setting the next two sessions focus on production in the studio.  “Beat Production in Ableton Live” is hosted by Huston Singletary alongside Take.  Some of the tips Singletary provides are rather basic for the intermediate audience, but within them quite a few hidden gems are revealed.  Even more, Take seizes the opportunity to ask the hard questions of the in-house Ableton representatives, like why envelope information cannot be placed on clips.  At the end the audience takes his lead to probe the Ableton team about other software anomalies including the lack of SysEx support.

The next workshop focuses the new Native Instruments Komplete 7 presented by Dubspot, hosted by Thomas Faulds and featuring Lorn.  There isn’t enough time in an hour for Faulds to cover the 90GB package in total, so he focuses in on perhaps the bundles most powerful application Reaktor.  Things really get interesting when the focus shifts to Lorn who gives the audience a peak inside of his creative process by breaking down some of his own productions.  He turns to the layering of his drums utilizing multiple Battery instances.  While layering drums is not necessarily new there is something very special about Lorn’s approach which is most evident when all the layers are put together.  His drums are by no means merely stock Battery sounds.

In the heart of Downtown Seattle, the Nordstrom Recital Hall in Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, has been set up for the first of three Optical events at this years Decibel.  Decibel founder Sean Horton explains that the Optical events serve to show another side of electronic music.  It isn’t all about keeping the dance floor moving; contemplative works of electronic music too deserve their proper place, and the concert hall serves as a perfect setting.  Additionally serves another purpose which electronic music is in many ways at the forefront, and that is the integration of music and visuals.  Within this setting one must expect that they like their musical counterpart need not be of the rapid fire psychadelic variety, but instead touch the audience at the same depth as the music.

Robert Henke under his birth moniker is first, though he does not actually take the stage.  Instead he is positioned behind the projector at the center of the hall with a small mixing desk where he weaves sonic textures around slowly progressive visuals that pair the natural with the industrial.  The synergy between the sound and visual works wonderfully as one looks for the subtle changes visually as much they are listening for them.  As the volume of change in the visuals increase so too do the aural.

Murcof is next with visuals provided by Scott Sunn and from the first chord it is evident the audience is in for a ride.  The chord itself is obviously symphonic, but synthetic in a way which could never be duplicated by the musicians who normally call the hall their home.  The sound of it calls back to the workshop with Lorn; it is familiar but treated in such a manner as to become personalized to the artist.  It is taken a step further with Sunn’s visuals, which echo each of Murcof’s chords with imagery obviously computer generated, but the fluidity of his smoke like shapes make them seem almost organic.  If Sunn were standing in front of the screen with a brush one might think he is painting them, and the beautiful thing is that he actually is.

The final act for the evening Mark Van Hoen unfortunately served to exemplify one of the major setbacks of all electronic music – there will be glitches.  Fortunately he is able to work his way through them to complete a performance even if not the one he originally intended.   Back on Capital Hill Ill Cosby is warming up the Baltic Room for the Planet Mu showcase, Shlomo is warming up the Neumos crowd for the Red Bull Music Academy On The Floor event and the four is already on the floor courtesy of Mister Leisure in Sole Repair as Seattle’s own Trust crew aims to keep the crowd jumping all night.  On the far side of town, the stage at Motor is filled with instruments as the Art of Rhythm event plans to showcase the roots of electronic rhytms through a myriad of global beat influences, laid down by the likes of Phutureprimative and Beats Antique.  The selections for the evening are incredible but the distance between them less than desirable, setting up for hard decisions and sacrifice.

Apparently overnight Neumos either acquired or fixed a smoke machine, and whoever is operating it is trying to use it at every opportunity possible.  The first couple of times it makes for a nice atmospheric choice, but after a while it is just annoying.  Not annoying enough to take away from the stellar performance Brainfeeder Teebs is putting down.  Considering the heaviness usually associated with the hip-hop beat category he is thrown into, the melodic development of his songs show that there’s far more to the sub-genre than the strict headnod.  It compliments perfectly the early bubble in the crowd as he works his Roland 404, building up the energy slowly.  By the end he is showing that while he may prefer the more textured approach he can lay it down heavy with the rest of them.

While the line-up for this Red Bull event is indeed spectacular, the set arrangement leaves a lot of room for improvement, evident by the strange transition from Teebs into Addison Groove.  He’s billed as Headhunter, but as soon as the first thump from his Roland 808 hits, it’s quite clear this is an Addison Groove set.  The crowd takes little notice of the awkward switch into his dub techno floor rockers, but instead just take the cue to start the heavy dancing for the night a little early.

Over at the Baltic Room Falty DL is laying down a rundown of electronic music genres from the 90’s to today that somehow makes a pitstop at Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” before Starkey brings out Ikonika in a time slot an hour early.  She brings the bass heavy to the dancefloor, but perhaps has taken the early slot to slip out like others are to catch the first live U.S. appearance by Mount Kimbie back at Neumos, where a longer than expected intermission between sets is doing a good job of prepping the crowd for the second awkward transition of the night.

The UK duo is without a doubt the most anticipated set of the festival.  Their buzz precedes in them, and in this case has everyone in the crowd wondering if their live show can live up to the expectations of their recordings.  The smoke machine would make for a funny coincidence were they to have a repeat performance of their set the previous night where electrical difficulties left the majority of their rig powered down.  But there were no mirrors on the stage as they kicked into their dream like blend of every modern electric music influence imagineable.  Their hold of the audience’s attention beyond being well warranted was also quite fulfilling.

For the final awkward transition of the evening the Neumos crowd is released from the downtempo post dubstep of Mount Kimbie into the all out frenzy that is Modeselektor.  Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary hit the stage as if it is the cockpit, standing confidently behind their controls, scoping out the air space before turning off the fasten seat belt light so the passengers could enjoy every bump of the ride.

At the witching hour Decibel has the whole city of Seattle jumping, Modeselektor is trying to push past last call to honor their European club rocking heritage.  The trust party has hit full stride as Trus’Me mans the DJ booth at Sole Repair.  Beats Antique is fusing sounds turning Motor into a tribal dance.  At the Baltic Room Starkey is laying it all on the line with his breed of musical but still very heavy dubstep.  It stands as a testament to the power and reach of the music through all of its sounds.  That is until the bass booming from Baltic blows the subs.  Thankfully there are still after parties.